Friday, 15 August 2014

My Perfect Mind - preview - Young Vic

IN 2007 actor Edward Petherbridge was two days into rehearsing the title role of Shakespeare's King Lear in New Zealand when he was suddenly and unexpectedly struck down by not one but two strokes.
In the space of 24 hours the now 78-year-old had gone from knowing one of the greatest parts in theatre to being barely able to move.
It was, by his own admission, a devastating and frightening time - not least because it was a role he had been coveting for a long time and is often regarded as the pinnacle of any thespian's career.
By a miracle - though he tells me he hates that word - he recovered and as he did so he made a startling discovery - that he remembered every word from the role he cherished so much.
It inspired My Perfect Mind, a semi-autobiographical play in which Edward plays himself and King Lear and which was staged at the Young Vic last year.
He devised and co-wrote it with fellow actor Paul Hunter with whom he stars in the show and director Kathryn Hunter (no relation).
And he says he's "absolutely delighted" it is being revived at the Waterloo theatre for a four week run starting tomorrow night (Wednesday, Sept 3) before heading out on a small nationwide tour.
"I don't believe in miracles - you only have to look in the garden every day to see the magic that is life," he says.
"But it was an incredible thing to bring all the strands together and create the piece and I'm thrilled we can do it again."
The two-man production is partly a look back through the archives of Edward's illustrious 50-year career as a classical actor - he was the original Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, worked with Laurence Olivier at the National and Old Vic Theatres and has played practically every major stage role since.
It is also a chance for him to finally play Lear - at least in part - as well as show how one event can turn life upside-down.
Amusing reminisences and anecdotes from Edward's life are thrown into the mix making it a piece which is funny, touching, poignant, gentle and almost surreal.
He and Paul - who takes on a multitude of roles including Lear's Fool - perform on an off-kilter stage which he admits was a bit of a worry at times though he says he only fell off once.
But he says it was a "delightful" show to devise.
"Paul and I met a few years ago while we were rehearsing for The Fantasticks, an off Broadway show," says Edward.
"We hit it off immediately and we began talking about what had happened to me. I told him about an idea I had do something based on it, and he suggested there was a better show to be done.
"He runs theatre company Told By An Idiot so I thought if anyone could make it happen he could.
"We didn't have to discuss very much though because it just happened - almost by osmosis!
"It's been a joy to do - especially working with Paul and Kathryn - although of course I was trying to get in as much Lear as I could!"
And he says its positive reception from audiences was "a joy".
"Years ago I played the original Guildenstern and remember going home from rehearsals on the bus to Peckham where I lived and immediately thought this part was tailor made," he says.
"It had all the sorts of things I'd wanted to bring out in myself as an actor. I could feel it working and that's what I felt with this show," he adds.
"A great recognition point is the laughter - when you know the audience has got it. It's a visceral point of understanding between the audience and the actor.
"There was definitely a sense that it would lift off. I don't know why the elements came together as we rehearsed in a loose kind of way but it just worked," he adds laughing.
Paul agrees though he admits its success took him by surprise.
"Plays aren't revived very much as they tend to exist in the present, there for a short time before disappearing for something else to take their place," he says.
"But there was something about this show that really connected with people so when the Young Vic asked to bring it back we were all very much up for it.
"I always thought there was potential in it and that it had a lot of resonance but I couldn't have predicted the hugely positive response we got which spanned all generations - we played to a wide range of ages.
"But that's the joy of it - it touched a lot of people. In fact it was one of the most successful shows of the past 21 years my company, Told By An Idiot, has put on!
"I know it has a lot of life and breath still in it."
I ask Edward finally if he still yearns to play Lear in full.
"I'm not sure," he admits. "I was asked not so long ago by a fringe theatre company but I didn't feel the conditions were quite right.
"I've not completely given up the fantasy to do the whole thing though," he adds chuckling.

My Perfect Mind is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo from September 2 until September 25.

Tickets from £10. Box office 020 7922 2922.

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